“We’ve built a work of heart!”
On its website that’s how Mile Hi Church in Lakewood, Colorado talks about its new sanctuary — a huge Monolithic Dome that called for an Airform of over 55,000 square feet. Opened in April 2008, the dome has a diameter of 233 feet, a height of 63 feet, a seating capacity of 1500, and a balcony that will eventually accommodate 600 more.
It’s the third and largest building on Mile Hi’s campus and the largest dome building in metropolitan Denver.
More importantly, Mile Hi sees its new dome sanctuary as, “An individual and collective opportunity … to put principle into practice, and to leave a legacy of unity and peace.”
How it all came about
Mile Hi’s history dates back to 1960, a minister and 17 adults who met as a study group in the auditorium of Lakewood’s Kirby Building. Since then, this interdenominational church that welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds has grown rapidly. It currently has 20,000 members; a campus with an Administrative Center, Community Center, Education Center and the new dome Sanctuary; three Sunday and one Wednesday service; ministries, activities and special events for all ages.
By 2002, Mile Hi knew it needed more room, and so the planning began.
Executive Director Rev. Robert Smith, who is also an architect, said, “We actually started by looking at a steel structure that would mimic our second building — a steel frame one with an essentially flat roof.”
But the memory of the ear-splitting sound of a thunderstorm on a metal roof changed his mind, as well as those of others.
Rev. Smith said, “We’d already experienced that in our Community Center. With it hailing outside, you couldn’t hear anything inside. So we looked into some alternatives, like deadening the roof of a steel structure with concrete. That proved too expensive. And a typical, precast, concrete structure just didn’t look good.
"So I began searching for any new technology, got on the Internet and went right to Monolithic Dome.”
Mile Hi already had one dome — an earth-formed one, built in 1973. “So as soon as we shifted away from a steel building to a dome,” Rev. Smith said, “the congregation reacted very favorably. It was not a hard sell — probably tougher to get the architect and contractor on board, than the congregation.”
How is it going to sound?
“That’s the big problem, when it comes to a dome,” the reverend said. The church contracted David L. Adams & Associates to help them solve it. They covered the back wall of the sanctuary’s auditorium with a sound-absorbing material, wire-suspended dozens of soft, fluffy clouds from the ceiling and sprayed that ceiling with an acoustical substance.
“I was concerned that we might lose some of the dome’s thermal capacity if we sprayed that ceiling,” Rev. Smith said, “but it hasn’t impacted it at all. We have no heating or cooling problems in that building.”
Mile Hi’s sanctuary has a large, wooden stage with movable towers and platforms that easily accommodate a 140-member choir. They record their services and hope to soon begin televising them.
The church maintains a calendar of special events that includes everything and everyone from nationally acclaimed motivational speakers to equally famous, but much louder, rock bands.
A learning process
The reverend said they had “to learn how to heat and cool the dome without overdoing. And actually David South (president of Monolithic Constructors) told us that would be the case.”
Because plans included adding 600 seats into the balcony, the church installed two mechanical units for heating and cooling. Now that they know how to keep the dome’s interior comfortable, they only use one of those units. Current energy bills are only half of what they were in the beginning.
Applause and awards
The Monolithic Dome sanctuary has won several awards, including the City of Lakewood’s “Sustainable Building Award,” for the dome’s energy efficiency and other factors. Colorado Construction magazine has recognized it as one of the new, ultra-green buildings in its area. And it’s up for several other awards.
“We’re very happy with it,” Rev. Smith concluded. “The community loves it. We get a lot of lookers. When you have a dome that sticks up 60 feet, you can see it a long way off. We’re in a mountain area, so it’s the first thing you see coming down. If you’re flying over Denver, it’s the first thing you see. Our next project is to light the dome so people can see it at night. It raises lots of questions, and that’s what we like.”